Why Are There So Few Hair And Beauty Treatments Available For Women Of Colour?
The Debrief: Hair and skincare for non-white women is depressingly rare, and but 23-year-old Princess Onitilo is looking to change that...
There is no denying that the availability of cosmetic products for women of colour has increased over the last few years. While there is still room for improvement, the days of calling a family friend in America for the right foundation, or that particular Shea Moisture hair product, are becoming less frequent. Those moments of feeling invisible due to the limited choice of products for darker skin tones are becoming a thing of the past, as the internet has provided a platform for women of colour to have dialogue that addresses this problem.
One problem that seems to fly under the beauty radar is how inaccessible hair and beauty treatments can be for women of colour. Yes, beauty salons and spas provide different experiences for their caucasian customers, but it appears that many beauty salons and spas provide a similar experience for women of colour - beauty treatments that don’t work for their hair or address the common skin problems they are likely to experience.
A study by Habia revealed that there are 35,704 beauty salons in the UK, but there are only 302 Afro-Caribbean salons. While this study doesn’t account for mobile hairdressers or hairdressers that work from home, it drives home a startling message that potentially, less than one percent of beauty salons have stylists that are equipped to work with hair of black heritage.
The inability to find hairdressers and beauticians that cater to the needs of women from an ethnic background, prompted 23-year-old Princess Onitilo to create Tress Free, a website that allows black women to search and book appointments with Afro-Caribbean hairdressers and beauty therapists.
'My goal is to ensure that Tress Free is a platform that brings awareness and education to beauty industry, in understanding the different hair and beauty treatments black women require,' explains the Warwick graduate.
'Tress Free provides black women with access to professionals who can give us more than general advice on our hair and skin. The stylists and beauticians who have signed up understand our beauty needs and the beauty industry needs to do better in acquiring knowledge and learning techniques of the different beauty treatments, that cater specifically to black women.'
While Princess is determined to make a platform that gives black women across the UK and eventually Europe, more choice in terms of beauty treatments, she does admit that her business was born out of personal frustrations.
'I had a hair appointment booked and my hairdresser let me down at the last minute and it’s hard trying to find a hairdresser, let alone a hairdresser that was available at the last minute.
'I just thought I don’t have the energy to phone a friend, who will phone another friend for a recommendation. I felt that to find a good hairdresser requires too much energy and it shouldn’t be that hard. So I started thinking if there was just a centralised platform to find this person, my life would be so much easier and the idea for the website started from there.
'Also, I had a recent incident when my local beauty spa had an offer for laser hair removal and it was insanely cheap. I walked in to book an appointment and was told the treatment was not for black people. I didn’t know what to say, so I quickly left.'
Of course it would be unfair to paint all the beauty businesses with the same brush after Princess’ experience. Yet, it is hard to deny that the majority of treatments on offer send a message that these businesses only cater to the needs of white women or at the very least, place the beauty needs of caucasian women first. Treatment programs for many local salons and renowned spas provide a range of sun bed and spray tan experiences and usually offer at least one, if not multiple facial treatments that help combat anti-ageing. While many will argue that anti-ageing is a problem all women want to address, research has shown that signs of ageing are more visible on white skin, than darker skin tones.
Meanwhile, black women are more likely to suffer from hyper-pigmentation and the skin problem Melasma (another form of hyper-pigmentation) is more common among women of hispanic and Asian heritage. However, facials to treat these particular skin problems appear far less frequently than anti-ageing treatments on the list of services from spas and salons and at times are missing altogether from treatment lists.
Even when googling the term: 'spa treatments for women in uk' the overwhelming majority of images that feature people are white women, with the appearance of some white men in stock images. This pattern doesn’t just occur with Google; most images found on spa websites feature white women and in turn, create the perception that this beauty experience is only equipped to serve the skin and hair needs of white women and not women of colour.
A 2014 study showed that in the UK, £5.25 billion is spent on hair care and black women account for 80% of the total hair product sales. The amount that black women spend on their hair at surface level could be taken as pure vanity, but if we look critically at the statistics, it seems obvious that black women would be the biggest spenders on hair products. Why? They have to spend so much on hair products, because black women have no choice but to create DIY hair treatments in the bathroom sink. Yes, some beauty salons have one or two basic hair treatments for afro hair, but like our battle with buying foundations two or three years ago, in a few select salons, we have a limited choice in the hair services offered.
The lack of availability for beauty treatments for women of colour compared to caucasian women has a strong sense of deja vu and once again, sets the tone that, we could be facing an uphill battle to create a solution to this problem. Yes many beauty treatments for skin can work on any women regardless of their skin tone, but we need to address why there is a wider range of services available to white women.
This growing conversation about beauty politics needs to address the narrow choices women of colour have and the starting point for this conversation is for beauty salons and spas to stop seeing white women as the default when creating treatment programs for their customers.
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